Canada made history by becoming the largest country in the world to fully legalize adult-use cannabis on October 17, 2018, and the opportunities for retail-focused entrepreneurs are vast. Monthly sales passed $270 million in October of 2020, and continue to grow. Despite the pandemic, Canadian cannabis sales reached $3.25 billion in 2020, surpassing all expectations.
At Cova, we understand the unique needs of cannabis retailers. Our dispensary POS and inventory management, touchscreen menu and Express Checkout solutions are used in hundreds of dispensaries across North America. And as a Canada-based company, we couldn’t be more excited to help fellow Canadian businesses put their best foot forward in the emerging cannabis retail market.
Our parent company, iQmetrix, provides retail management and point-of-sale software to over 20,000 retail locations throughout North America. Our experience in scaling for large, multi-store retail operations uniquely qualifies us to work with both provincial government organizations and private entrepreneurs looking to run cannabis dispensaries. This page is informational only and should not be considered legal advice.
How has COVID-19 affected cannabis in Canada?
The virus has left a huge impact on the industry as a whole, as Canadian public-health officials continue to change their guidelines on what lockdown procedures look like.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many provinces have tried to reexamine their regulations surrounding cannabis delivery. As of now, one thing that has been introduced is a click-and-collect ordering program: How it works is that you order online and pay, then pick-up in-store. Thankfully, a majority of Canada’s recreational cannabis stores have been ordered to stay open by their provincial governments during the coronavirus outbreak as they have been deemed essential businesses. While delivery programs are still not yet fully implemented, things could change in the coming months, so stay tuned.
Just this week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned Canadians that due to the realities of COVID-19 and our social- distancing and self-isolation measures, some businesses and services may remain closed for another 12 to 18 months.
What this has meant for Canadians and businesses in the tourism sector, as well as the cannabis industry, on the whole, has been changing day-by-day. But if you’re planning on taking a cannabis-fueled vacation to Canada, temper your expectations for it happening any time soon.
How much cannabis are you legally allowed to purchase in Canada?
Are you ready for it? No matter where you are in Canada, you can legally possess, carry, and share (with other adults, obviously) 30 grams of cannabis. If you’re trying to wrap your head around just how much that is, it is about 60 to 75 pre-rolled joints. Depending on where you are in the country, it could cost anywhere from 160-400 Canadian dollars.
What’s the legal smoking age?
In most provinces across Canada, the legal age to purchase and consume marijuana is 19. However, in Alberta the legal age is 18, and the newly elected government in Quebec raised the minimum age to 21.
So can you just smoke anywhere you want in Canada?
We wish! Could you imagine if Canada was one big hot box? To date, nearly every province in Canada has banned smoking both cigarettes and cannabis in indoor public spaces, public-transit facilities, and at workplaces where smoking could take place.
In Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta, the law states that people can smoke cannabis where they can smoke cigarettes. Recently, Halifax designated 84 designated toking zones on municipal property throughout the Halifax region. The exact locations can be found via this map from the Halifax Regional Municipality.
Still unsure and don’t want to be fined or ticketed? This Wikipedia entry does a good job of breaking down province by province where you can smoke, without issue. Plus if you’ve got time on your hands, take a minute to read over the full Cannabis Act, province by province. It’s a long read, but a useful one if you plan to visit.
Compliance with record-keeping and reporting requirements is of paramount concern to all cannabis operators. Health Canada has stipulated that all licensed cannabis activity—including sales, deliveries, and losses—must be recorded in the national Cannabis Tracking System (CTS).
As a retailer, you are required to submit monthly reports to your provincial government, which are then submitted to Health Canada to be updated in the CTS. These reports must be submitted through an online portal, or e-mailed, depending on your province.
At Cova, we’ve developed a point-of-sale specifically for Canadian cannabis retailers. Cova POS is able to generate 1-click compliance reports that contain all the data required, in the format established for each province. This automated process saves you countless hours in reconciling inventory and sales, and helps you avoid human errors that could cost you your license.
Throughout Canada, more than half of all private stores operating rely on Cova’s POS to keep them compliant.
Where exactly can I buy cannabis in Canada, and how much is it?
Each province has its own specific rules on where to purchase cannabis. In nearly every province (except Nunavut), cannabis is typically sold in a government-run retail shop or a privately run dispensary, or a hybrid of the two. The most important thing to remember is: the only legal way to purchase cannabis is through these stores, and they typically have a seal displayed in the window to indicate they are approved by the Canadian government. For a complete comprehensive shop guide, visit Leafly or BudHub Canada, which break down the products, pricing, vibe and customer service experience at shops.
The purchasing experience can vary province-by-province. Here’s what to expect.
Nova Scotia: The Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation is the only retailer of legal cannabis. You can find all their store locations via their website. Right now, there is an online retail site, but you actually can’t access it until you obtain a special access code in-store and verify your age. The cards are free to obtain, but make it difficult to find out what kind of products are in-store before you arrive. Right now, there are 12 retail locations listed on the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation website. On average, you’re looking to pay $10.99 per gram for what they’ve listed as “core” or “premium” cannabis
Ontario: As of April 1, 2019, Ontario’s regulated retail market finally opened for business, with all legal cannabis becoming available for purchase via the Ontario government’s e-commerce website, the Ontario Cannabis Store. But things have changed drastically since that day, with more choices and options. The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) lifted its private retail-licensing lottery and opened the floodgates to those who wanted to open a cannabis retail space. Currently, there are 33 cannabis stores authorized to operate in Ontario, with a full map provided here by the AGCO. Retail stores will sell flower, pre-rolls, cannabis oils, vapes, edibles, and capsules. Prices will range from $7.95-$13.25 per gram.
Quebec: Everything in Quebec will be sold in publicly run stores by the government-run Société Québécoise du Cannabis (SQDC). Currently, there are 41 cannabis stores around the province, which sell everything from flower, pre-rolls, cannabis oils, beverages, and capsules. As of press time, the SQDC had a note on their website that they were closed on Sundays, and now delivering via Canada Post. Prices range from $5.25 a gram, with all taxes included.
Alberta: One of the most surprising markets since legalization has been Alberta, with over 400 cannabis store licenses — more than any other Canadian jurisdiction — and 40 federal cannabis license holders. The Alberta Gaming, Liquor, and Cannabis agency has been praised for granting retail licenses quickly and efficiently, ensuring the consumers can purchase products such as buds, pre-rolls, edibles, cannabis oils, and capsules throughout the province. Prices range from $9.24-$15.42 a gram, depending on the retailer.
British Columbia: Many cannabis activists in Canada started out in British Columbia selling through compassion clinics. Now all legal cannabis can be found in privately owned dispensaries and in BC Cannabis Stores (BCCS) operated by the provincial government agency, the BC Liquor Distribution Branch. Right now, there are multiple locations listed via the website, and visitors can order via the e-commerce site. In each of the retail stores, there will be buds, pre-rolls, cannabis oils, and capsules. You may find accessories in some stores, like rolling papers, lighters, pipes, or bongs. Prices range on their website from $6.99-$16.28 per gram.
Statistics Canada has been collecting information on the average cost of cannabis across the country, and on average the average price of cannabis is $7.37 per gram.
What about delivery and online ordering?
If the thought of going into a retail setting overwhelms you, you have options! Some provinces and territories offer online cannabis sales where you can have it delivered to your hotel or Airbnb for arrival within a matter of days. The other option is delivery, which is available in Manitoba and Saskatchewan via Pineapple Express Delivery, a service that provides both business-to-business and business-to-consumer deliveries.
Does Canada have smoke lounges and coffee shops like they do in Amsterdam?
Long before cannabis became legalized in Canada, smoke lounges existed in cities like Toronto and Vancouver. However, in their current state, these cannabis lounges and coffee shops are kinda (not quite) legal. If you’re confused — trust us, it’s not just you.
With so many rules and regulations on where you can and can’t smoke, many provinces are looking at legalizing lounges in the future. For example, this past February 2020, the Ontario government held a consultation process to solicit input about potentially permitting cannabis consumption in lounges, outdoor festivals, and concerts across the province. Although there has been no final decision as of yet, the government did mention they would not be amending the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, which prohibits guests from smoking on-site.
Edmonton is still debating whether consumption lounges or cafes will have a future in their city. They were hoping to discuss what this meant for the city this past February 2020, but nothing had been updated as of press time.
Ontario: If you’re in Toronto, stop by the Hotbox Cafe, a private cannabis lounge in Toronto’s famed Kensington Market. Operating since 2003, the café has been regarded as a safe haven for those looking to consume cannabis or take in a bit of cannabis culture. Currently, the store is closed for renovations but promises to re-open by the summer of 2020. Another go-to is the cannabis lounge scene is the comedy club, Underground Cafe 420. Like hanging out at your stoner pal’s basement, they recently had to ask guests from smoking on-site as it fell under the Smoke-Free Ontario Act. Total bummer.
New Brunswick: Open since April 2018, The Green Room operated its private cannabis lounge in the heart of Saint John’s. With dab rigs and vaporizers on hand, visitors are asked to bring their own bud for consumption at the lounge. Strict rules apply to becoming a member, which include paying a $5 fee and providing photo ID. The club also asks that each of its members come with a designated driver or money for a taxi.
British Columbia: One of the largest and most notable lounges in the West Coast, the New Amsterdam Cafe operates as a full-functioning cafe by day and a cannabis lounge by night. Founded in 2000, the cafe asks visitors to bring their own stash and for a nominal charge of $5 before 5pm (it’s free after 5pm) guests can have full access to the bongs and dab rigs on site. If you get the munchies, they’ve got a fairly extensive menu including a grilled cheese sandwich, ice cream sundaes, pastries, and, of course, coffee.
There are lots of other lounges and cafes in Canada, but most of them try to keep a lower profile (like the Calgary Cannabis Lounge in Alberta, which provides little to no information on its website). When you’re traveling, the best thing to do is either ask nearby fellow smokers if they are aware of any lounges that are great to visit in the area.
Can I smoke in hotels or AirBNBs?
Although legalization took place in Canada, Airbnb still has been noticeably silent on what exactly their policy is, with no official policy listed on their website.
Airbnb really is leaving the decision in their host’s hands and how they feel about smoke, and moreover having cannabis in their homes. Across Canada, many hotels and rental landlords are banning cannabis. Before legalization, many condo boards were writing in rules to clamp down on cannabis use indoors. So the host’s policies really depend on where Airbnb is located and how they feel about cannabis in their space. You’ll often find that hosts will use keywords like “420-friendly,” “cannabis-friendly,” or “green-friendly” in their posting to indicate that smoking a little toke here and there is totally fine.
If that seems like a lot of work, check out Bud and Breakfast, an Airbnb-style site dedicated to providing folks with cannabis-friendly places to stay. Right now there are over 30 Canadian hosts, including places to stay in Ontario and Montreal. Following a similar path is Dank Destinations, which currently has just one listing for Canada (in Calgary). The listing (a chain hotel) indicates that cannabis is permitted and “smoking is allowed in the designated outside area.” If you’re looking for something a bit more high-end, check out Sir Sam’s Inn & Spa in Haliburton, Ontario. Dubbed Canada’s first cannabis-friendly resort, the property has lakeside views and tons of areas to smoke peacefully.
What about edibles and cannabis-infused meals?
Cannabis 2.0 products — which included vape pens, beverages, edibles, and topicals — first became available to consumers in some provinces in December 2019. Many people were anxiously waiting for this second wave of Canada’s cannabis legalization process to hit. In January alone the Ontario Cannabis Store generated approximately $4.3 million in sales from the second-wave of cannabis products, according to a statement issued to the Financial Post. Deloitte has estimated that edibles and other alternative cannabis products would potentially make $2.7 billion Canadian dollars. Although the rollout onto retailer shelves was slow but steady, consumers seem enthusiastic about what they’ve been able to get their hands on including gummies, chocolate bars, cookies, cannabis-infused tea, infused waters, vapes, and more.
So since you can purchase edibles in-store, does this mean you can go to a bar/restaurant and have an infused meal? Not quite. Similar to smoke lounges and compassionate clubs, Health Canada has said that the Cannabis Act will maintain control over all edible products made from cannabis mixed with food ingredients, which means restaurant meals would be excluded from legal sale.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t DIY or underground infused dinners taking place around the country or infused cocktails with CBD being made somewhere. In Toronto, by MINISTRY and dirt are two of the go-to high-dining and high-concept cannabis events in the city. In Edmonton, chef Daniel Huber hosts a pop-up dinner for guests via his Edmonton Cannabis Dinner Club, and Travis Petersen, a former contestant on MasterChef Canada, started The Nomad Cook, where he hosts dinners for guests across Canada on a pop-up basis.
Should I try to bring some back on the plane with me?
So if you’re traveling within Canada, going from one province to another, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) has confirmed that 30 grams (aka the legal amounts of recreational cannabis) will be allowed on checked or carry-on baggage on domestic flights.
If you’re traveling elsewhere, well that still remains illegal although if you’re really thinking about taking it across, you may want to refer to some of these handy tips. Just remember: the United States border authorities will likely not quiz you on your smoking habits whilst away. So don’t sweat it.
Cannabis Marketing Restrictions
According to Health Canada’s regulations, “Unless authorized under the Cannabis Act, it is prohibited to promote cannabis or a cannabis accessory or any service related to cannabis.” These prohibitions include advertising cannabis through testimonials, endorsements, or portraying cannabis as if it’s linked to “a way of life such as one that includes glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring.”
Guidelines for cannabis marketing are still lacking and Health Canada evaluates each violation on a case-by-case basis. Many provinces rely on the federal advertising regulations, but some provinces like Alberta and British Columbia have slight variations.
Cannabis Marketing Restrictions
- Paid Google, Facebook, or Instagram Ads
- Use celebrity endorsement
- Outdoor Signage (although some provinces, like Alberta, allows signage but limits the content to name and address)
- Using coupons
- Free samples
- Show cannabis product on your website
- Sell merchandise
- Communicating information about price
The following marketing techniques are allowed:
- Creating a strong online presence
- Building your brand
- Engage customers through social media
- Content marketing to drive organic search
- Certain types of cannabis events, generally limited to intra-industry events
- Email marketing
- Informational Promotion (must be communicated to individuals 18 years + and is identified by name)
Cannabis retailers are expected to place advertisements in places where minors are not allowed. And if an advertisement is done via telecom, a retailer must prove they have taken reasonable steps to ensure the audience is 18+.